This is the second bouncy edda in Mrs. Stewart's Arthurian series, which promises to be wildly popular with the matronly following. Again Merlin, whom the author has laundered from his legendary slough among unclean spirits, narrates his own story. We left Merlin at the close of The Crystal Cave (1970) arranging the conception of Arthur through the confluence of King Uther and the Duchess (later Uther's Queen) of Tintagel. We now encounter Merlin under a cloud not of his own making, as the Duchess' Duke is killed on the portentous Night, leaving Arthur's parentage in doubt. This then is the story of how Merlin supervised Arthur's exile in infancy and from afar (Merlin travels tirelessly) kept watch over his boyhood. He also pursues the sword Excalibur in visions and in perilous journeys and guides Arthur to his kingship. Arthur is declared King, but, on the eve of the dying Uther's proclamation, there are those sure signs of tragedy and corruption that will gnaw from within Arthur's dazzling reign. Throughout there are dreams, omens, real dangers and adventures among ruins, ""small gods of small places,"" forests and paths traveled by spies and soldiers. The author's high-spirited invention spins those topless towers of blanc mange -- marvelous on the porch glider.